Welcome to our web site. For more information about Stephie's art, please also check out artbystephie.com.
For Matt's writing projects, please go to storiesbymatt.net. Enjoy your visit here!

12/29/17: I saw on the Internet today that Sue Grafton passed away. She was best known for her Kinsey Millhone mysteries, the titles of which all started with a letter. Stephie had picked a few of them up at the sorely-missed Brandeis Book Sale that accounted for much of our book collection. She was immediately a fan, and we've picked up every volume since. We even met Ms. Grafton twice, once at a book signing in Skokie (coincidentally minutes from where the Brandeis sale was held) for 'J' is for Judgement, and again in 2013 for the release of 'W' is for Wasted.
     The latter was an amazing experience. A long line snaked through Anderson's Bookstore in Naperville, to a table in the back where she stood and greeted her fans. She was not a young woman by this time, but she stood by that table and greeted everyone warmly, taking a few minutes to chat with each of her fans while signing their books. I told her that I had written a few books by that time, and she was very encouraging. She even posed for this very nice picture with Stephie.
     It's a little unfortunate that she passed away after the publication of her 25th Kinsey Millhone novel, so she wasn't able to complete the alphabet, but she left behind an impressive body of work, and a strong impression in me of how to interact with fans should I ever be fortunate enough to have someone wait in line to speak to me like we did with her.

12/08/17: I just found out today that Dr. Jerry Pournelle passed away back in September. I don't think I've read any of his fiction (since I don't read much science fiction) but his column was one of the high points of my Byte magazine subscription back in the '90s when we used to get all our tech news on paper. A few years after the magazine folded, I found that he took his writings to the web, and I followed him there for a while, until it seemed to me that he started to write more about political issues rather than technical, and as my politics didn't line up with his, I stopped reading. I'd think about him from time to time, like when I used one of his favorite phrases "the day was eaten by locusts" to describe a non-productive work day, and I would check back every so often and pick through the digs at President Obama and other things Democratic to find out what he was up to tech-wise. I realized today that I hadn't checked there in a while, and going to his site, I found that he had passed away, and I'm kind of sad about that.

11/23/17: There's a story that I've told to people many times that I've never told here. The main reason was because I would have to dig out some of my old comic books to get visual aids for the story. But this week, my brother had sent some images from some old Marvel comics, from an Internet treasure trove that he found, so I asked him if he could find the two issues involved in the story, and he not only found the issues, but he found the panels in question. Thanks, Chris!
     I've always had a pretty good vocabulary, going back to high school and before. Even today, I'll be writing an e-mail at work and a word will pop into my head, something that seems appropriate but is not one that's used regularly. (One such example is obviate.) I don't think I use these words to sound smart, or to try to confuse my intended audience. They just seem to be the right word to use at the time, and usually are.
     I've been asked about this, if I knew where this vocabulary comes from, and I always tell people, "comics." My brothers and I started reading comics in earnest in the Fall of 1973, and I seem to remember struggling in school up to that point, but once I started reading comics, my grades picked up. Maybe that's a coincidence, but I don't think so.
     There is one incident that stands out in my mind, that I've told people about many times, and thanks to Chris, I now have proof. It happened in 1974, based on the cover dates I would say probably June. I had just come back from the store with my weekly haul of new issues, and in that pile were two Marvel comics, Amazing Spider-Man issue 136, and Daredevil issue 113. Both have cover-dates Sept, 1974, which is how I guess it was in June. I do remember buying them both on the same day. The picture here is of the covers of those two issues.
     I read Spider-Man first, since it was my favorite comic at the time, and the story picked up where it left off the previous month, in the aftermath of an explosion in Peter Parker's apartment, which he shared with his high-school buddy Harry Osborne who was slowly becoming the new Green Goblin. The panel, as I remember it, was on the second page, a picture of Peter holding a piece of metal, and it contained a word balloon in which he was saying something about Harry taking up pyrotechnics as a hobby. That was not a word I was familiar with, but I don't know that it registered with me at the time. I did notice, when I read the Daredevil issue next, that the splash panel had an image of Daredevil, in the middle of a lightning storm, overlooking the city, and one of the captions said something about the pyrotechnics of the storm. I remember stopping at that point and going to the dictionary to look up the word pyrotechnics. If you click the picture of the comics, you can see the panels that I saw. It didn't hit me until many years later that a medium like comics, one that has historically been thought of for children, would use words that might send a pre-teen to the dictionary for a definition, but I guess I was not your typical pre-teen, because I did go to the dictionary to learn what the word means.
     As I mentioned, I've told this story to people who have asked about my vocabulary. I've also told this to friends who had children who were reaching reading age. I tell them that it's okay if their kids want to read comics. There's lots to learn from reading comics. The trick is to get them to read anything.

11/10/17: Two days ago, we had the first real cold snap of the year. As I was walking into work from the parking lot, I heard sounds in the trees as if hundreds of squirrels were running around. It took me a second to realize that the many leaves that were remaining on the trees had frozen overnight and were snapping off and falling through the branches, making the sounds I was hearing. As I approached the building I worked in, I noticed that the color of the leaves had turned, seemingly overnight, so I took a picture of the area in front of the front door. I then turned around and saw the rising sun had illuminated the tops of the trees, an effect that I always liked, so I snapped a picture of that as well to share with Stephie.
     Two days later, I was walking in and saw an entirely different scene. The leaves were almost entirely gone from the trees, and even more surprisingly, gone from the ground as well. I turned around and while the difference was not as obvious as in front of the building, the leaves were gone from larger trees as well, and again, most of the leaves were gone from the lawns. Kudos to the grounds team for their quick work.

10/20/17: Many of you know that I'm a fan of old movies, and as an extension, old movie theatres. We had an old, beat-up local theatre (the Brighton Theatre on Archer Ave.) in our neighborhood when we were growing up, and I saw many a movie there on the big screen, especially once I was old enough to walk there myself. The Brighton is gone, torn down as so many of the neighborhood movie palaces have been, but I still get excited when I get a chance to go to one of the few remaining theatres from the cinema's golden age.
     I had one such opportunity today, as Stephie and I made the trek up to Waukegan to see Chris Issac perform at the Genesee Theatre. The Genesee was built in 1927 and had shown films until 1982, then sat unused until 1999, when the city of Waukegan bought it. They made many changes, both inside and out, but it still retains some of the feel of the movie palace it once was. I don't think they have the ability to show films any more, but it's a great place to see a band play, and Chris Issac put on an excellent show.
     But if you go, you need to stop by the lounge on the second floor. We were there early, and were milling around, looking at the decor, when someone suggested we go upstairs. On the second floor, in what looks to have been a lounge for the theatregoers, they have a display of memorabilia relating to the building's history and past life showing films. They have the console from the pipe organ that was used when silent films were shown. There are blow-ups of newspaper articles, from the theatre's grand opening to when the manager invited John Dillinger to watch a film there (and claims that he actually attended!) There are reels of film and film cannisters to show how movies had to be transported to the theatre to be shown. I highly recommend spending a few minutes there if you find yourself in Waukegan for a concert.
     While I was marvelling at the blow-ups of the architectural diagrams of the theatre, I struck up a conversation with the security guard posted there. We talked about the demise of the local movie theatres, and how I try to visit the remaining ones when I can. He said that his family ran a theatre in Twin Lakes, WI, which is a coincidence because my aunt and uncle had a vacation home there when we were kids, and we visited there at least once a year. I don't remember a theatre there, but then he said, "And my brother used to manage a theatre on the south side. It was called the Brighton." I said, "That was the theater in my neighborhood when I was a kid!" He said, "Yeah, what a shithole," to which I replied, "Yeah, but it was our shithole."

10/18/17: There has been a trend in recent years of people taking pictures of their food and posting them on on social media. Thinking it a frivolous waste of time, I never thought that I would do such a thing, but that's exactly what I have for you today. Here's a picture of one of my favorite lunches.
     Years ago, I discovered that I really liked the Mild sauce that Taco Bell provides in little packets for use on their fare. I would go there regularly for lunch (there was one nearby work) and would always grab a handful of Mild sauce packets that would wind up in my desk drawer, for use primarily on McDonald's Breakfast Burritos. I always felt a little guilty about taking so many, and was happy when I found bottles of the official Taco Bell Mild sauce on the shelves of our local Jewel. I usually buy a couple at a time just so I have one handy.
     Around the same time, I discovered Trader Joe's Fat Free Bean and Rice Burritos. No, they're nowhere near the quality of a decent Mexican restaurant, but they're inexpensive, filling, and although a little high in sodium, not as bad for you as many frozen meals. Perfect for taking to work for a quick lunch. And I found that a little Taco Bell Mild sauce gave it a little boost, flavor-wise.
     I've been eating this combo for years, but recently, I've had an epiphany. I've been trying to add more veggies to my diet, so I've taken to buying bags of frozen veggies and heating them up to have with my sandwiches at work. Recently, I had a half a bag of corn in the fridge at work swo I thought I'd add it to my burrito dish. It may not look that appealing, but the flavor was outstanding. It added a sweetness to the dish that I didn't realize was missing. Now, when I bring the TJ Burritos to work, I make sure I have some corn in the freezer to top it off. What a combination!

10/02/17: I've written in the past about problems I've had with news aggregators on the Internet. Whether it's truncated headlines or stale links, it seems that the material presented could benefit from some better programming, or at least someone looking at the results. I spotted another one yesterday, right in the middle of coverage of the horrifying attack on concertgoers in Las Vegas. Can someone please explain to me what the algorithm was that thought that "ashley simpson naked pictures" was somehow related to a maniac with military-style weapons shooting up the Las Vegas strip?

09/14/17: News item I saw today said that Grant Hart, drummer and co-songwriter for punk rock band Hüsker Dü, had passed away. It seems that we're losing musicians at a faster clip lately, which kind of makes sense I guess, seeing as how none of us is getting any younger, and the rigors of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle will eventually take their toll.
     I was never a big fan of Hüsker Dü, but years ago, on the strength of a glowing review (possibly in Trouser Press) I bought a cassette of their then-current release Warehouse: Songs and Stories. This was back when I would buy pre-recorded cassettes of things that I figured I would listen to primarily in the car. I think I listened to it once through and put it away. There were a few songs on there that I thought were not bad, but overall I was disappointed, especially after the high praise heaped on the album in that review.
     Not long after, Hüsker Dü broke up, and the other songwriter in the band, Bob Mould, released a few albums that I found to be more accessible than the Hüsker Dü one I bought. I don't know if I heard anything more from Hart, although I now see that he's had a number of releases in the years since the band broke up. In that time, however, I occasionally saw references to the Warehouse album, almost unanimously in positive terms. Sometimes when I would run across a mention of it, I would pull the tape out and give it another listen. I don't think I ever listened to it more than once through before again putting it away, many times not even listening to all the tracks.
     But then a funny thing happened. A year or two ago, I put Warehouse on my phone to listen to (having converted the cassette to MP3 many years ago) and discovered that I recognized almost all of the 20 tracks, to the point where I was singing along with many of them. And I looked up the album on the web and found that a few of the songs I liked best ("Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope" and "She Floated Away") were actually Grant Hart compositions. I don't know that my musical tastes have changed all that much, or if just by giving it a listen ever few years, the album has grown on me, but I think I finally see what prompted all those positive reviews. And that makes Grant Hart's passing a little sadder to me.

08/29/17: One of my heroes, Ron Fortier of Airship 27 productions, liked my latest novel, The Sleep Detectives Go To Washington, and wrote a review of it on his blog site. You can read the review here.

08/26/17: Stephie and I went to an art fair that we'd never been to before. The Bucktown Arts Fest was held, predictably from the name, in and around a park in Bucktown, an area on the north side of Chicago. The fest was centered in Holstein Park but actually spread out down several streets in the neighborhood. It was surprisingly not that hard to find parking and there were lots of interesting art booths to see. There was also a row of food trucks and a few stages of music. It was a really nice show, and Stephie said that she might try to get a spot there, as it seemed to be more fine art and less crafts than many of our local shows.
     The thing that impressed me the most, though, was the band playing on one of the stages. The tent was way at the end of one of the streets, well past the last art booth in that direction. The sign pointing there said "New Roots Jazz Stage," and not knowing what that meant, we thought we'd walk down to check it out.
     When we reached the stage, there was a quartet on stage, and six people in the audience, but the music was fantastic! It was kind of vintage jazz and blues, the type of stuff that novelty acts like Leon Redbone used to play, or more recently the Squirrel Nut Zippers. There was a woman playing guitar and singing, a guy playing a washboard, another guy playing a trumpet, and a guy at the back playing what I learned was a sousaphone. The band was Myra and the Moonshiners and after their set, we bought a CD. It was only after we got home and I looked them up on the Internet that I discovered that they're from Minnesota, so the odds of seeing them again are not high. Still, at least we have the CD!

08/21/17: The last near-total solar eclipse visible in the Chicago area was in May of 1994. I remember I was working in Downers Grove at the time, and we went outside to witness the spectacle. None of us had any special glasses or anything, although some had the pinholes-in-cardboard devices, which was supposed to be the safest way of seeing what was going on in the sky. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, and I recall that pinhole gizmo not working really well, but you knew something was going on even without looking up because the daylight noticeably decreased.
     It was weird because it was not dark like a bunch of clouds rolled in to obscure the sun. You could tell the sun was still shining, but the light was dim. The main thing I remember was when someone noticed the shadows on the ground. Where the sun was shining through the trees, there were hundreds of little crescents on the ground, each showing a tiny eclipse. Of course, this was before everyone had cameras in their phones (or even before everyone had phones in their pockets) so I don't have any pictures of that effect.
     The '94 eclipse was 94% coverage. The eclipse today was supposed to be 87% complete, not as much as last time, and since I'm working at the Chicago Botanic Garden, there are plenty of trees around to fiter the light so there still should be plenty of examples that I can get a picture similar to what I saw 23 years ago. Near the time of totality, we emerged from our basement lair and walked the Garden. The place was packed, and most people had these cardboard glasses that the Garden was giving out in conjunction with the Adler Planetarium. It looked like we were in a drive-in with hundreds of people watching a 3-D movie!.
     Alas, the weather did not cooperate this year, as just before totality, clouds rolled in and obscured our view of the sun. Just before the clouds got really thick, you could easily see the crescent shape of the sun without any protective eye-wear. Shortly afterward, the clouds took over and it became just another cloudy day. I don't know how long people stayed, hoping to get another glimpse of the last, best eclipse of our lifetime, but I was disappointed I didn't get a picture of the tiny eclipses on the ground.

08/16/17: I was at work today when I got a recorded-message call from "Credit Card Services", offering to reduce my debt. As directed by the friendly message, I pressed '9' to speak with a representative. A woman came on the line and asked me, "Are you responding to the offer of a free consultation?" I replied, "No, I'm responding to the unsolicited phone call I just got," but before I could say anything more, she hung up on me. How rude! It's almost as if she thought I was wasting her time.

07/19/17: A few months ago while I was at work, I had a brilliant idea. If you've ever microwaved a frozen dinner, you've probably overcooked some and undercooked some before finding the exact time that you need to get it just right. On most modern microwave ovens, there are a lot of factors that affect the success of your meal preparation. The cook time, the cook temperature, the wattage of the device, and if the plate inside rotates or not. The packages have now evolved so that most of them now have a range ("Cook 3 to 4 minutes") and specifically states that the directions were developed with a XXXX-watt microwave oven and that because "Appliances vary," we may need to "adjust cooking times as needed." But say you're new to the office and don't have experience with that particular device (or you're too lazy to care.) How can you ensure your frozen lunch will be cooked properly?
     Here's my idea: what if there was a barcode on the package that the microwave oven can scan, or maybe you can scan it with your smartphone and link up to the microwave, that would identify the correct cooking instructions as developed by the vendor? Those cooking instructions could be interpreted by some logic in the oven that because it knows what the wattage of the oven is, and whether the platen is rotating or not, it will automatically adjust the cook time for that particular oven. Say you have a package that says to cook 3 minutes in a 1000-watt oven, but when you scan the barcode, the oven knows that it's actually 1500 watts, so it sets the time for two-and-a-half minutes. Or you have a 900-watt microwave that doesn't have a built-in turntable, so it sets the time for three-and-a-half minutes, and stops halfway through to prompt you to rotate the package 90 degrees before continuing.
     When I mentioned this to the guys at work, there was some initial snickering, but then we talked about barriers to implementing something like this. The technical aspects shouldn't be an issue. While microwave oven manufacturers might not be keen to build barcode scanners into their ovens, they certainly couldn't object to developing the logic to calculate cooking parameters, and it must not be too expensive to include a bluetooth module because everything these days seems to want to talk to your phone, so they can rely on your paired smartphone for the actual scanning. I know that QR codes can hold a ton of data, so getting the details into the barcode is not a problem. The guys pointed out to me that the main flaw would be in developing some kind of universal set of instructions that all the food vendors and oven manufacturers could agree on. We thought that the food people agreeing on something would be the biggest roadblock.
     Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked at my frozen lunch today and saw this little detail on the bottom of the package. It seems that a group of retailers and manufacturers have developed a site they call "Smartlabel" to share information beyond what is printed on the label, including "things such as nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories & safe handling instructions, company/brand information, along with other pertinent information about the product."
     Sounds to me like now we just need to get the microwave oven manufacturers on board to make my idea a reality, after which we never will have to suffer through an incorrectly-cooked frozen dinner again! As a friend of mine is fond of saying, we truly are living in amazing times.

06/19/17: For anyone who's noticed, my two sites, stephanieandmatt.com and storiesbymatt.net, were temporarily off-line this past weekend because my idiot hosting company cancelled my domain just after I paid the annual renewal, and they don't have any support on the weekends so I had no one to yell at when I noticed. Fortunately, artbystephie.com is hosted elsewhere.
     I've been with them since the site went live in 2003 and have not had many problems, but the problems I did have were stupid mistakes on their part, like the time they cancelled my hosting after the boneheads realized they forgot to bill me for two years, or the time they moved my domain to another server without notice and lost the entire contents of the database, which held 10+ years of posts. (It didn't help that my off-line backup was several months out of date.) It was worse this time because I was afraid of losing the domain that I've had for the last 14 years! I know I've been slow to write things here lately, but I think there's some good stuff here that I posted over the years, and a lot of people know this address. And when I decided to set up a page for my writing projects, I was able to do that inexpensively by buying another domain and pointing that to a page at my main site.
     I think it's time to find a new hosting provider. I've already moved storiesbymatt.net to a free Wordpress account, which I'm not thrilled with only because I can't seem to find a template that I like, and because I will have less control over my content than I should have. (For instance, Wordpress could conceivably one day say, "We're now charging for this, and you can't get your content back until you pay. Not likely, but possible.) Plus, I don't like how the URL works when I'm on the site. I want it to show "storiesbymatt.net" instead of "storiesbymattsite.wordpress.com", but the way it's forwarded means that any sub-pages only show "storiesbymatt.net" in the URL window of your browser, and it also stays the same if I link to an external site. The only way I know of to fix that is to pay for hosting somewhere. I'm planning to do a little research with an eye to changing providers before my next bill is due.

06/12/17: Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I again packed a bunch of my books and flyers in a plastic tote and drove downtown to the to sit under the Illinois Woman's Press Association at this years Printer's Row Lit Fest. I had lots of fun last year (and a modicum of success selling books) so I was eager to go back.
     There were several people under the tent that I recognized, including the woman next to me, so I set up my wares and waited for the buyers to stop by and be charmed into parting with their hard-earned cash in exchange for an autographed book from moi, but alas, it was not to be.
     The first problem we had was the weather. It was a warm, sunny day, but it was windy. Very windy. Books flying across the street windy. I had secured my offerings fairly well, to where I didn't have to dive on top of the table when a fresh gust came through, but not everyone was as confident, and the people on my side of the tent spent a lot of time picking their stuff up off the ground. I think the wind might have kept a lot of people away.
     Another problem was that I was flanked on either side by writers who's plan was to attack passers-by with flyers and bookmarks and cards, shoving them into people's hands without asking if they were even interested. I personally don't like when someone does that to me, and while some people may look at that material later, I am disinclined to do so. My approach, wrong or right, is to ask people passing by if they would be interested in hearing about my work, or if I may give them a flyer. I feel that initiating a conversation allows the potential customer to politely decline if they so desire, without me burdening them with unwanted paper that may wind up in a recycle bin (if we're lucky.) With these attack writers on either side of me, many people veered away from the tables, changing their trajectory so that they were too far away for me to reach out to.
     Another problem was my own doing. As I wrote after last year's show, I hope that my enthusiasm will make potential readers curious about my work, to where they might take a chance in buying a book from an author they've never heard of. This year, I was also promoting my mailing list, and I'm giving away a chapter a month of my latest story called "Barnstormers". I did obtain a few new people for my e-mail list (and you can join at this link), I believe I cut into my sales by giving potential buyers a way of showing their support without buying anything. I may need to re-think this strategy.
     Ultimately, though, I think we were victims of the economy. I heard several other authors say that in all the years they've been doing this show, this was the worst year in terms of sales. I heard talk of the current political climate, the large numbers of vacant shops in innumerable strip malls, and how people are keeping their discretionary spending to a minimum.
     I guess all of that's true, but I had hoped to sell more than I did, which was only a fraction of last year. I did have fun, though, and talked to a lot of nice people. Hopefully all those flyers I handed out might bring in

06/05/17: I was saddened to hear today of the passing of Peter Sallis, a popular British TV actor, at age 96. I first knew of Mr. Sallis the way most of the US had learned of him, as the voice of Wallace in the fantastic Wallace and Gromit series of films. But I soon grew to know him for the part that he'd played for 37 years, the lovable Norman Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine. That's him on the left.
     I can't remember exactly when I stumbled on Summer Wine, but I'm pretty sure it was on Channel 20, the "other" PBS station here in the Chicago area. While over the years Channel 11 has always shown the big name programs from England, like Masterpiece Theater, Monty Python, Are You Being Served?, and the first 20 years of Doctor Who, Channel 20 showed those and more. It was on that channel years ago that I was able to see the entire series of Blakes 7, a science fiction series held in high esteem in the sci-fi community. It's also where we discovered Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Doctor Blake Mysteries, Rosemary and Thyme, and many others.
     But Summer Wine is different. Set in a small village in the English countryside, the show follows (as Wikipedia put it) "a trio of old men and their youthful misadventures." It's very low-key as compared to other British comedies, and might be a bit confusing until you figure out who all the characters are and the relationships between them, but I really fell in love with it. Even moreso because I get to see the voice of Wallace coming out of the face of its owner! And the description is right about their misadventures being "youthful." I keep imagining the episodes as acted by the Our Gang cast, and I think it would work.
     I watched many episodes before showing one to Stephie. TV shows that I record on our MythTV setup do not contain subtitles, and some of the accents are difficult for even a confirmed Anglophile such as myself, but after a few episodes, she was hooked, too.
     Unfortunately, Channel 20 hasn't broadcast any Summer Wine since they played two Christmas episodes back in 2015, and I only have 9 left on my DVR. I was hoping to see a marathon in memory of Peter Sallis, the only actor to be on all 295 episodes, but I've not seen anything like that listed. My DVR is still set to record any broadcast of Last of the Summer Wine, and I hope one of the bazillion channels we have on cable would find time to show episodes of this sweet and very funny series. If not, maybe Amazon or Netflix might pick it up. Wikipedia says that the entire run is available on DVD, but alas, only on region 2 discs. I guess if all else fails, we always have YouTube. Thanks for all the years of laughter, Mr. Sallis.

06/01/17: Today I released my eighth book for the Kindle. After I published my first Sleep Detectives book, I wanted to do something a little different instead of going right into book two. I thought that it might be interesting to follow one of the side characters from that story, so I had Danny transfer to another store and have an adventure on his own. Out of that came a novelette, The Lost Night, which introduced a number of people at Danny's new store. I was fortunate to have my nephew, Ricky B, available to do the cover, as he did with the Sleep Detectives.
     Then I had an idea for another Danny story, so I thought maybe I'd do a trilogy, since trilogies seem to be all the rage in Hollywood and elsewhere. That second story became The Lost Girl, and it was well received, and I figured I was on a roll.
     I sort-of had an idea where the third story would go, but when I sat down to plot it out, I chickened out. I was going to have one of my characters sustain life-threatening injuries, but the more I thought about it, I realized that I didn't really have a good reason for doing that. Plus, I was growing fond of everyone at the new store and didn't want to cause any of them harm. So rather than write the planned third part of the trilogy, the story for The Lost Ticket popped into my head.
     The Lost Ticket is set all in one night, as Danny and Izzy attempt to retrieve a winning lottery ticket which was stolen from an elderly couple. The story occurs all in one night, and I think it's one of my better efforts. It's available now for your Kindle from Amazon.
     And the trilogy? I think it's become a tetralogy (as of now) and I have a good idea for the fourth book, and I think it'll be a surprise to everyone, especially in light of what I wrote above about growing fond of my characters. I'll probably work on that in the fall, before the next Sleep Detectives novel.

05/31/17: Every so often, a news article will pop up about the blooming of a "corpse flower" in a conservatory or greenhouse nearby. I'd always been intrigued by the Amorphophallus titanum, a plant native to western Sumatra, which blooms once every seven to 10 years, and only blooms for a 24 to 48 hour stretch, giving off a scent that's been described like that of a rotting carcass to attract the flies and carrion beetles in hopes that they would pollinate it. There have been several blooming in recent years, but the short notice and short bloom time usually means that the only way to view the flower is via the Internet.
     As luck would have it, I'm now working at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and earlier this week they announced that two of their titan arums, named Java and Sumatra, was about to flower! I was able to run over there at lunch time today and stood in line to see (and smell) this rare event!
     The line was not that long, and I was soon walking by the two flowers as people milled back and forth and kids ran by. Both were huge, well over seven feet tall, and while Sumatra was not yet open, Java was in full bloom. The picture here does not do it justice. I'm fan of anything larger-than-life, and these two were impressive.
     The only disappointment was the actual smell. One of the volunteers said that it was not as pungent as expected because the greenhouse was not as warm as the plant would have liked it, but the odor was strong. I think I was disappointed because when I worked in the Produce department, I experienced, at various times, a pile of liquefying potatoes and a bin of rotting watermelons, and both of those smelled worse than the corpse flower.

05/21/17: I really need to delete the Bat Out Of Hell album from my phone. I recently loaded it because I hadn't heard it in a while, and I read an article in Classic Rock about how its essentially the soundtrack to a musical that Jim Steinman wrote years before, and is now being staged as a musical in London. I've listened to it couple of times in the car (typically singing along at the top of my voice) but now I can't get the songs out of my head. And it's not like a typical earworm, with one song that won't go away. It's almost all the songs, over and over. At work, at home, in the shower, in the car, it's driving me nuts! It has to go.
     I did, however, replace it on my phone with Bad for Good, the album Steinman recorded when Meat Loaf lost his voice after the Bat Out Of Hell tour. Let's see how that goes.

04/23/17: Another Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention has come and gone, and as usual, my wallet is a little lighter and my bookshelf a little heavier. The cool thing is two of the prizes of this year's haul I didn't even pay for! One was the fat Fredric Brown book you see in the middle of the picture. The reason I didn't pay for is at the show was that I paid for it over a year ago! It was published by this tiny press in Michigan that specializes in high-end volumes, and the first printing didn't meet the publisher's standards, so the entire run was destroyed! It took him a while to find another printer, but the results look to be worth the wait. I'm itching to start reading!
     The other treasure has an even better story. At last years show, I was browsing a table of paperbacks and saw one titled Johnny Havoc, written by John Jakes, who is better known for historical novels. I thought the cover blurb was hilarious, and the guy behind the table agreed with me, so I bought it. I read part of it that night, then went back the next day to try to find the rest of the series. According to the 'net, there were four books in the series, but I could only find three.
     So this year, I find myself at the same guy's table. He looks up at me and says, "Hey, you came back! I have something for you." He digs in a box behind the table and hands me a copy of the fourth Johnny Havoc book, Making it Big, and he wouldn't even take any money for it!
     Over the course of my four days there, I chatted with (and bought books from) many of the book sellers and authors I've spoken to in past years. I saw a really good movie, Gambling Ship, with Cary Grant and Benita Hume, and I sat in on some panels. I didn't stick around for any of the auctions this year, but there was one item from Friday's auction that caught my eye. It was a copy of Top Notch Magazine from 1913, over one hundred years ago, and the cover intrigued me. It was up for auction near the end of the night, and I didn't want to stay, but as the weekend wore on, I grew to regret that decision. I decided on Sunday to see if I could find that issue in the dealer room. I checked every dealer selling original pulps, and found the copy at the very last table next to the door. And at what I thought was a reasonable price, too.
     A few of the dealers said I should try to go to Pulpfest in July, which will be held for the first time in Pittsburgh. I doubt I can afford to go, but I certainly will be at Windy City next year.

04/15/17: I don't usually click on a link to a video when I'm meandering around the web. In fact, if I click a link on a news site and find that the link is to a video, I just close the browser tab without watching. I do this partly because I don't usually have my speakers on (I have a buzz in the speakers and it's not been important enough to me to figure out what causes it), partly because I have FlashBlock in my browser to prevent ads from auto-playing and many times the video won't even play right, but primarily because I don't want to sit through a bunch of nonsense to get the information I'm looking for. Many of the "news" articles I used to try to view (and most of the "informational" videos I've seen on YouTube) start with a commercial I can't skip, then has someone I don't care about introduce themselves and the site they're working for before telling me that I'm about to find out what I am about to see, before telling me what I clicked the link to know. I can usually read a news article or a tech tip in less time than the introduction, and I can link to a particularly useful text article easier than to the middle of a video.
     So I was surprised when a news article pointed me to a video and I actualy watched the entire thing. The article was about an 18 year old college student who was interested in old computers, who had an opportunity to buy an IBM mainframe. That intrigued me enough to click the link, which turned out to be a video to a presentation he gave at a convention. I figured I'd watch a couple of minutes and move on, but I was strangely captivated by his story. He got a little technical, but I know enough to be able to follow what he was talking about, and in the end, I was very impressed by this young man. Watch the video yourself and see if you don't have the same reaction.
     And a later article says he has since landed a job at IBM because of this. Good for him.

03/26/17: I finally did it. I set my netbook back to Windows 7. Stephie bought this little Toshiba for me back in 2011 and it was perfect for writing. It was light, the keyboard was good, and the battery lasted long enough. It wasn't fast or anything, but for what I wanted to use it for (writing on the go) it was perfect. When Windows 10 came out a few years ago, I read a number of articles saying that it was actually better on netbooks than Win7, so I took a chance and did the free upgrade. For a while, it was good, maybe a little better performance than Win7. But as time went on, it slowed to where it was unusable. On days when it needed to run an update, which, since I only used the thing once in a while, seemed like every time I wanted to use it, the system wouldn't even respond to keyboard or mouse while the update was downloading.

     So today I backed everything up and told it to go back to factory install. It took the better part of the day, but it's back to Windows 7. It's slow, but at least it's usable. When I have time, I'm going to also install Linux Mint Mate on it and see how that works.

03/09/17: I hope I didn't freak out the people ahead of me on my way to work today, but they had some cool bumper stickers and I wanted to get a picture. Actually, I took five pictures, hoping one of them would come out clear. This is the best shot of the bunch. In case you can't make them out, there was a Night Vale sticker that read "Guns Don't Kill People. It's impossible to be killed by a gun. We are all invincible to bullets, and it's a miracle." There was also a D20 die, like you'd use to play Dungeons and Dragons, and a Science fish. My favorite, though, was their take on those goofy family stickers that you see on SUVs. You know, the semi-stick figures of Mom and Dad and however many kids and pets might be in the family. This car had a Mom and Dad, four cats, and two bags of cash. It made me laugh out loud.

03/08/17: There's a puzzling trend I've seen several times, most recently this morning. I saw a person on the tollway cut into another lane of traffic and stop for no apparent reason, then just sit there for a few seconds before continuing on. It was almost like they did this to make the car behind them slam on their brakes, then pause as a way ot taunting them. I assume this is a road rage thing, but I don't understand this at all. You're going to risk your car being smashed into for what? To prove a point? What kind of an idiot does that?

     This happened to Stephie and I once. We were making a turn when the guy in the turn lane ahead of us suddenly slammed on his brakes and sat there briefly before moving on. I'm not sure what triggered this behavior. There was no one in front of him. We had the green light, and there was nobody making a turn from the other direction. I had just pulled into the turn lane behind this joker. It's not like I cut him off or anything. I hadn't even seen him before. Did he want me to hit him so he can sue me? Possibly ruin his car and maybe injure himself? What makes someone do this?

02/13/17: When I started the new job, they bought me a brand new laptop, a Dell Ultrabook. Up till now, I've mostly used it at my desk, in the dock, so I haven't used the built-in keyboard much. With last weeks run of meetings, I got to spend a lot of time working on the keyboard and I noticed something really annoying to me. There's no dedicated Home or End keys. In lieu of a Home key, I have to hold the Fn key down with my left hand, and press the left arrow key with my right. A week of this and I realized how much I actually use the Home key. The most common use for me is when I want to highlight the contents of a field, like to copy the URL from the browser. The easiest way I found is to click at the end of the line then hold the Shift and tap the Home key. Sometimes I'll click anywhere in the URL string, tap the End key, then do the Shift-Home combo to highlight the entire line. On a normal keyboard, I can do this without thinking, but I kept having to stop and hunt for the Fn key while holding the Shift with my left hand, then find the arrow key with my right. First-world problems, I know, but it was enough to break my workflow, and distract me from what I was doing.
     I use the Home and End keys a lot when typing, too, to jump to the beginning and end of the line I'm working on. In that case, the two-handed Home key definitely breaks my flow. I'm not a touch typist (I frequently look a the keys) but I am usually pretty quick. This laptop keyboard is fairly easy to type on, but every time I want to use the Home or End keys, I have to stop thinking about what I'm typing and hunt for the correct key combination. I thought that I would get used to this, but after a 40-hour work week on this keyboard, it's still not natural.
     This was on my mind this past weekend so I brought it up at my Writers Group meeting on Saturday. I asked everyone if they used the Home and End keys, and the answers were split almost evenly into two groups. Half the people said they use the Home and End keys all the time, and the other half asked what the Home and End keys were used for, since they never used them. Maybe they're working on keyboards without dedicated Home and End keys.

02/10/17: The job is still going well, but this week was very trying. Five days packed solid with one meeting after another. It was important that I attended all these meetings, but I literally got none of my other work done. It's been a long time since I've had that particular pleasure.

01/31/17: We watched the season ending episode of The Good Place today, and to use a favorite phrase of one of the main characters: Holy fork! I liked this show when it started, thought it might suffer because of the extended Christmas break, and after its return, I really started hating one of the characters who seemed to get stupider as the season went on. But this final episode had such a massive plot twist that made perfect sense, and now I can't wait for the second season. I worry, though, that the show will lose its mojo after the break as so many shows have (recent examples of shows I liked that came back from a summer break and disappointed are Mr. Robot, Two Broke Girls, Mike and Molly, and Castle). I think this show would be a good binge if you haven't seen it yet. It's short (13 half-hour episodes) but I thought the payoff was worth it. Recommended.

01/16/17: Today we watched the final episode of Sherlock, the Mark Gatiss/Steven Moffat updating of Sherlock Holmes starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. News sites on the Internet hint that there may be another season at some point in the future, but this is the final episode that I'm ever going to watch. This series has turned into a massive disappointment to me, and I blame Moffat. I used to be a fan of his writing. We liked Coupling when channel 11 ran it a few years ago. I loved Jeckyll and I thought that "Blink" was one of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever. The first three-episode season of Sherlock was amazing, the second season was also excellent, but after that, something happened.
     It started for me with the cliffhanger at the end of season 2. After waiting two years to find out how the writers were going to handle the aftermath of Holmes and Moriarty's apparent deaths, I thought the explanation was convoluted and unsatisfying. I felt that the writers just wanted to show us how clever they were, rather than tell a good story. The rest of the season (all three episodes) was just strange, and it ended with Sherlock murdering someone. This was followed, two years later, but a "special" episode that I felt was an hour and a half of my life wasted. I approached this "final" three-episode season with a little trepidation, but the first two episodes showed a little of what appealed to me in the early episodes. Unfortunately, it ended with what I thought was the worst episode of the entire series.
     I had much the same reaction to this episode that I had to one of the Doctor Who episodes from the last season, which Steven Moffat (also the show runner of that series) had written. I fell asleep at one point, then when it was over, I went back to see if I missed something, and realized I didn't miss much. Irritated, I went on-line and found many people praising the episode as the best of the recent seasons.
     Maybe I'm not the target audience for this any more. All I know is that I'm done with the Cumberbatch Sherlock, even if they make more episodes. We still enjoy Elementary, the CBS take on the Sherlock Holmes canon. It's not as true to the original stories as the first of the Sherlock episodes, but it's a heckuva lot more entertaining. I just worry that this might be the last season, because CBS moved it to Sunday evening, and with the time delays and cancellations because of earlier sports events running long, I worry that the public will give up on it rather than put in the extra work to watch it like I do.
     I see that there's a new season of Doctor Who starting in the spring, the final season guided by Steven Moffat. I haven't decided if I'm going to watch that.

01/11/17: One of the podcasts that I've been listening to on my commute is Antic - the Atari 8-bit podcast and I've really been enjoying the nostalgic feeling of listening to people talk about my first computer, an Atari 800, which I bought for $529 in January 1983. I mostly played games on it, but it was a gateway into working with computers, something that became a hobby and a career for me.
     I replaced my trusty 800 with an Atari ST in '88 or '89. Listening to this podcasts got me thinking about why I'm not as nostalgic about the ST as I am for the 800. The 800 was my first computer, but I used the ST longer and for more productive things. Yet as I think back, I was more fascinated by the 800. I bought more books about the 800 than the ST. I bought many more magazines covering the earlier computer than the latter. And I bought more games and programs for the 8-bit system. Granted, there seemed to be more material available for the earlier system, and it was easier to find. I bought Atari-specific magazines off the newsstand, and games and hardware were available at big retailers like Sears and Venture. Plus, I was living at home with my parents when I bought the 800 and with Stephie when I got the ST. My brothers were way more interested in computers than Stephie ever was.
     The big thing these days regarding classic computers is running emulators on current systems. I've dabbled a bit in the past, but recently I've been playing with a few emulators with good success. I have Altirra running in my Windows partition and Atari800 available in my Linux environment, and both work really well. The games I've been playing are not as deep and graphically detailed as most of what you can run on your smartphone, but there's some kind of a thrill to be able to play a few levels of Miner 2049er or some of the great Synapse Software games like Fort Apocalypse or Pharaoh's Curse. I'm actually thinking of getting an adapter so I can use my Wico joystick to play the games exactly like I remember them.
     But with all my interest in emulation, I find I'm not so eager to get an ST emulator up and running. I mean, I've had an ST emulator for years, the excellent Gemuator, but all I've done with that is occasionally bring up the emulated desktop, nod with approval that it looks like I remember it, then shut it down and move on. I think that by the time I was using my ST, I was treating the computer as an appliance rather than a toy. I had more utilities and text editors loaded on my ST than games. I used it to dial into the System36 at work from my ST to monitor batch jobs and troubleshoot issues from home. I used a Supercharger with the ST to emulate a DOS machine. I spent hours on Compuserve forums and on Delphi. I used an ST desktop publishing program to lay out the first few newsletters for the user group I belonged to. Almost everything I did on the ST can be done in Windows or Linux, and usually faster and easier, so why bother with the ST?
     As we become adults, we lose the sense of wonder at the world that we had as children, when we seemed to be always finding things that are new and interesting and exciting. As I think about it, at some point I lost my sense of wonder with computers. Maybe that's why I have trouble understanding why people get so excited about getting a new computer or a new cell phone. In a way, I just see it as another chore, more work I need to do to set the new device up so that I can use it the way I used the old one. But back in the '80s, every computer magazine I bought showed me new and exciting ways to use my Atari, whether it was a new game to buy or a new programming language to try or just a new BASIC program to type in from page after page of code. I think I need to get back that feeling. I think I'll start by playing some Mountain King. Anyone want to join me?

01/01/17: Good riddance, 2016. As I started the year, I was facing a layoff, but I had a generous severance coming, so I thought, "I'll take a couple of weeks, then get a job. Maybe we can take a nice vacation on the severance money." Little did I know that it would take the better part of the year to find someone to hire me. In the meantime, we watched the checking account dwindle down, my favorite aunt passed away, the oven crapped out, the TV almost crapped out, our sister-in-law did something to her ankle that put her out of commission for most of the year (but thankfully no surgery needed), Stephie's tummy problems came back, we couldn't afford a vacation, the leak in the veranda ceiling when it rains got worse and worse, and we lost our beloved Kisu. And this was all before the election! Then, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were effectively canceled for financial reasons. And it was the first year we didn't even get a tree or decorate for Christmas. I'm thankful that I still have Stephie, we're mostly healthy, and we have a roof over our heads, but c'mon!
     Now the year that Alasdair, the announcer for Pseudopod, refers to as "the dumpster fire that was 2016" is over, and things are looking up. I'm working, Stephie's feeling a little better, and we're talking about adopting another dog in the spring, after the winter slop is done. I'm optimistic about 2017, and I hope you are, too. Happy New Year!

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